Mandir: The Real Meaning of Temple Hindus Have Forgotten

The word temple is derived from the Latin word “templum,” which means a consecrated space or a sacred enclosure.
Temples are an important part of many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shintoism.

In Hinduism, temples are called Mandir. They are dedicated to a particular god or goddess and are constructed according to Vedic principles. 

The temple is seen as the dwelling place of the deity, and it is believed that the deity resides in the temple and blesses the devotees who come to offer their prayers.

The Meaning of ‘Mandir’ Is Lost: External Rituals and Customs

However, over time, the real meaning and purpose of the temple seem to have been forgotten, and many Hindus have lost sight of its true significance.

The temple has become more of a social institution rather than a spiritual one. People have become more focused on the external rituals and customs associated with the temple, rather than the inner spiritual journey that it represents.

Many have lost sight of the real purpose of the temple and have turned it into a place for socializing, networking, and showcasing one’s wealth and status.

This has resulted in the commodification of the temple, with many temples being run as profit-making institutions rather than spiritual centers. Many temple authorities have commercialized the temple, turning it into a tourist attraction, and exploiting the devotion of the people for personal gain, in turn leading to the commercialization of religion, with the focus shifting from spirituality to materialism.

The caste system has also played a significant role in the erosion of the true meaning of the temple. The temple has become a place of exclusion, where only certain sections of society are allowed to enter, while others are barred from participating in religious ceremonies. The lower castes have been marginalized and their fundamental rights to access the place of worship denied.

Mandir: The Inner Spiritual Journey

In Hinduism, the temple is seen as a representation of the human body. 

Just as the body is a temple that houses the soul, the temple is a symbolic representation of the human body that houses the divine in the form of an idol.

During the Early Vedic period, people worshipped natural forces. They worshipped many Gods. 

They did not have any temples or idols at that time. It was only later, that temples were built so as to dedicate a place of worship and to build an ambiance conducive to the spiritual growth of the soul.

When the Mandirs (temples) were built, the spiritual meaning was understood by the highly conscious men & women.

Mandir literally means — ‘Man ke andar’, translation ~ the One that resides inside of you.

Mandir (temple) was always a representation of the inner journey of the soul. It was never the end but the means that were to be used to connect oneself to the divine by worshipping in a place away from one’s worldly duties & daily chores; in silence.

As opposed to being used as a ritual wherein a person visits the temple to show the world how many days he visits in a week, a temple should have been a place where one could experience the divine presence and find inner peace and enlightenment — the real purpose for which it was built.

Temples should continue to remain places of peace and tranquility. They offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life, allowing people to slow down and reflect on their spiritual journey.

This is how Saints have described the temple or the mandir, which we have forgotten today.

Gurbani says, 

Harmandir ye sharir hai’

~ Gurbani, Guru Granth Sahib Ji

Harmandir — means Hari ka mandir 
Translation ~ The temple of God is this body.

An outside ‘Harmandir Sahib’ has also been built by Guru Arjan Dev Ji in Amritsar which is a representation of the Inner Spiritual Journey of the soul.

Photo by Laurentiu Morariu on Unsplash

When Harmandir was built, doors were built on all 4 sides. These doors were symbolic of the spiritual awakening journey of the soul.

The 4 doors symbolized two things –

  1. Anybody irrespective of his/her religion, culture, nationality, color, race etc. can enter the door of the Lord from anywhere. The door of the Lord is open to all.
  2. A soul can enter from any door/path and reach its Source (the Lord).

The Bible also teaches us that this human body is the temple of the living God, just in different words.

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? “If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are”

(1 Cor. 3:16–17).

Mandir Or Temple In Other Religions

In Buddhism, temples are called Vihara or Chaitya. They are places of worship where people come to meditate and seek spiritual guidance. The temple is seen as a place to cultivate inner peace and enlightenment.

In Taoism, temples are called Guan or Ancestral Hall. The temple here is seen as a place to connect with the spiritual world and receive blessings.

In Confucianism, temples are called Joss Houses. They are places of worship where people come to offer their prayers to ancestors and seek spiritual guidance.

In Shintoism, temples are called Jinja. They are dedicated to a particular god or goddess and are constructed according to Shinto principles. Again, here the temple is seen as a place to connect with the divine and receive blessings.


Construction of Mandir: Symbolism & Philosophy

The real meaning of the temple can be understood by exploring the deeper symbolism and philosophy behind its construction and function.

The temple is not just a physical structure made of stone or concrete, but it represents the spiritual journey that each devotee must undertake to connect with the divine.

For instance, the yogis describe the Garbhagriha, or the innermost sanctuary of Hindu temples where resides the murti (idol) of the primary deity of the temple as the representation of the head, while the pradakshina path, or the circumambulatory path around the temple is considered a representation of the spinal cord.

Photo by Sonika Agarwal on Unsplash


The temple has the power to connect people to their inner selves and to the divine. It has the potential to be a place of transformation, where one can find inner peace and enlightenment. 

However, for this to happen, people must rediscover the true meaning of the temple and understand its deeper symbolism and philosophy. They must move beyond the external rituals and customs and focus on the inner spiritual journey that the temple represents.

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